View Poll Results: What battle was the most decisive in the outcome of the American Civil War?

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  • Fredericksburg

    1 1.82%
  • Antietam

    10 18.18%
  • Vicksburg

    8 14.55%
  • Gettysburg

    27 49.09%
  • Atlanta

    3 5.45%
  • Franklin

    5 9.09%
  • Shiloh

    1 1.82%
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Thread: Most Decisive US Civil War Battle

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    Most Decisive US Civil War Battle

    Which battle do you think was most influential in deciding the outcome of the American Civil War? This question is geared towards either the battle where Union victory put the Union on path towards victory, or the battle where a Confederate loss threw away their chances at winning their independence.

    If you have a battle in mind that isn't listed, then I'll add it to the list of options in the poll.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Senior Contributor Amled's Avatar
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    I'd have to vote for Gettysburg, due to the horrendous losse the south sustained there.
    Especially of their battle hardende regiments and officers.
    Pickett's Virginian's and the Carolinians at Oak hill cases in point.
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    I am not an expert nor historian on the American Civil War but I will say Gettysburg because after that battle, Lee gave up his dream of bringing the fight to Washington. From that point on, he was on the defensive.

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    i'd say antietam. after that battle, the UK and france were not going to intervene.

    william gladstone, in 1862:

    "Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either, they have made a nation."

    had lee won antietam, the UK and france would have undoubtedly recognized the confederacy, which would have been the death-knell to US hopes.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Banned Defense Professional Bluesman's Avatar
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    If the word you really are focused on is 'DECISIVE', my vote goes for Franklin. On that single day, the War in the West was finally OVER. There was no meaningful Confederate force left in the West after Hood destroyed his own army, and it wasn't capable of stopping the Federals when they came to smash what pitiful remnant was vainly trying to hold on outside Nashville.

    None of the eastern battles decided anything very much, because Lee was still in the field and fighting until he was ground away to nothing by a seige, and not a battle.

    Gettysburg did not end the war, not by a long shot, and Grant came dam' close to losing the war TWICE, well after Gettysburg. Once by horrendous casualties and a close election that almost went to the 'Surrender Now' Party (aka, the Democrats; ain't it odd how history repeats itself?) because of those casualties and an apparent inability to defeat Lee in the field. And then again when Lee manuevered Grant into a trap that almost saw the loss of either a third or two thirds of the Army of the Potomac at the North Anna River, failing only due to AP Hill's and his own seperate illnesses.

    BUT...when the Army of Tennessee sacrificed itself at Franklin, it was mortally wounded, and THAT was the end of an entire theatre of the war.

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    Banned Defense Professional Bluesman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blademaster View Post
    I am not an expert nor historian on the American Civil War but I will say Gettysburg because after that battle, Lee gave up his dream of bringing the fight to Washington. From that point on, he was on the defensive.
    Not exactly. Early made one last attempt down (which is really UP, or NORTH) the Valley. But the Federals had so dam'[ many troops, and with Washington ringed with serious fortifications...it was a no-go. It was really an attempt to draw off enough troops from Grant to allow Lee a chance to get in one last crack at a killing stroke.

    Didn't work.

    The Federals had ample men to cover Washington, and Grant didn't miss a step: he just kept wading right into Lee, and didn't mind the loss of the troops he sent back.

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    Banned Defense Professional Bluesman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    i'd say antietam. after that battle, the UK and france were not going to intervene.

    william gladstone, in 1862:

    "Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more than either, they have made a nation."

    had lee won antietam, the UK and france would have undoubtedly recognized the confederacy, which would have been the death-knell to US hopes.
    That's a good pick, but it was a draw, and it barely sufficed for Lincoln to issue the Proclamation. I grant you that it WAS sufficient, though, for Lincoln to not look a total fool or terribly desperate by issuing it after a defeat, or a battle in which Lee did NOT retreat back into Virginia. In either case, Lincoln would've looked like an idiot or defeated (or a defeated idiot) if he'd issued the Proclamation THEN, and France and Great Britain would've certainly come into the war for the Confederacy.

    Once the Proclamation was on the street...intervention was a dead issue.

    So, I see your point that intervention would've assured a Confederacy, and once that was impossible, there was nothing that would've given the Confederacy independence automatically like that would have. But MY point is, even without intervention, the war wasn't a slam-dunk for the Federals YET; they still could've lost.

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    bluesman,

    If the word you really are focused on is 'DECISIVE', my vote goes for Franklin. On that single day, the War in the West was finally OVER. There was no meaningful Confederate force left in the West after Hood destroyed his own army, and it wasn't capable of stopping the Federals when they came to smash what pitiful remnant was vainly trying to hold on outside Nashville.
    interesting pick! correct me if i'm wrong, but wasn't the army of the Tennessee pretty much doomed regardless? and instead of just proving to be (not much) of an obstacle for sherman, they basically impaled themselves right there at the hands of schofield. had the confederates won at franklin, they'd still need to take care of the remnants of schofield's army, and then thomas's....and then sherman's. that's a pretty tall order.

    also, regarding this,

    And then again when Lee maneuvered Grant into a trap that almost saw the loss of either a third or two thirds of the Army of the Potomac at the North Anna River, failing only due to AP Hill's and his own separate illnesses.
    actually, i didn't know it was that serious for the federals at the north anna. but the federals outnumbered lee almost 2:1 at this juncture (IIRC 118,000 men to 61,000 men for lee), and 33% loss for the federal army (assuming none for lee) would have meant that grant STILL outnumbered lee. hell, taking 66%, lee would outnumber grant, but not enough, i'd think, for lee to decisively change the course of the war. (at this point in time, i think only capturing washington would have allowed him to do so, and by then DC was fortified to a fare-thee-well...and lee would have to deal with what, 70,000 POWs!) after all, sherman was still wrecking the south, and there were reserves in the north.

    but i do agree with you that the eastern battles by themselves did not mean much. however, in the course of the war, that was a good thing for the federals- grant in effect locked lee into place, allowing sherman to deliver the killing stroke by rampaging across the south.

    on another note,

    edward alexander porter, the very man who was in charge of the artillery prep for pickett's charge, said that he felt the most decisive day was one of the days in the Seven Days Battle. i think you referred to it earlier, regarding stonewall jackson being asleep. but had jackson pulled it off, it would have been a cannae for the confederates.

    and early 1862 was not half as favorable for the federals as 1864 was. no standing pool of reinforcements, and DC was not all that well fortified yet.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

  9. #9
    Banned Defense Professional Bluesman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    bluesman,



    interesting pick! correct me if i'm wrong, but wasn't the army of the Tennessee pretty much doomed regardless?
    DEFINITELY was DOOMED, but it wasn't yet DEAD. It was in the field and fighting, and as long as that was true, it was more-or-less a stalemate, and the theatre was still 'in-play'. Once that piece was removed from Jeff Davis' chessboard, though, the war was absolutely going to end with Union victory, PERIOD - there was simply no other possible outcome. Therefore, I believe the war was DECIDED that day.

    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    and instead of just proving to be (not much) of an obstacle for sherman, they basically impaled themselves right there at the hands of schofield. had the confederates won at franklin, they'd still need to take care of the remnants of schofield's army, and then thomas's....and then sherman's. that's a pretty tall order.
    No doubt. There was simply NO WAY for Hood to have beaten all that was arrayed against him (oh, and Sherman completely ignored him and marched the opposite direction into history, destroying the innards of the South with each mile, like a blue glacier). But the question wasn't so much could Hood have WON in his area of responsibility; he couldn't have. It was a matter of Hood being able to LOSE, and he managed to do exactly that. His army was beaten in a battle that need never have been fought: the Federals had no intention of keeping that ground anyway, and left as soon as their guns had cooled. STUPIDSTUPIDSTUPID, and it was a death-blow to the Confederacy, because, as I said, that army simply ceased to be useful, and the theatre of operations closed down and left the ANV as the only army worthy of the name in the entire Confederacy. (To be sure, there were still Confederate forces in the field and fighting, but no ready-to-use manuever force that could counter the hammer-blows that kept taking the Confederacy apart in a very workmanlike and procedural fashion.)

    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    also, regarding this,



    actually, i didn't know it was that serious for the federals at the north anna. but the federals outnumbered lee almost 2:1 at this juncture (IIRC 118,000 men to 61,000 men for lee), and 33% loss for the federal army (assuming none for lee) would have meant that grant STILL outnumbered lee. hell, taking 66%, lee would outnumber grant, but not enough, i'd think, for lee to decisively change the course of the war. (at this point in time, i think only capturing washington would have allowed him to do so, and by then DC was fortified to a fare-thee-well...and lee would have to deal with what, 70,000 POWs!) after all, sherman was still wrecking the south, and there were reserves in the north.
    I wasn't aware that it was that critical and close, either, until I read 'Bloody Roads South', about the Wilderness through to Petersburg. It's one of history's great 'what-ifs', and I think what's most important to know about it is the effect a defeat of that magnitude would've had on the North: MASSIVE casualties in a battle at least as artful as Chancellorsville that would've pointed up the brilliance of Lee and the (apparent) definciencies of Grant, almost certainly leading to his relief as general-in-chief. If Grant had been mauled to the extent of losing a third or more of the Army of the Potomac JUST BEFORE the election (and that defeat would've been the end of the campaign, closing out 1864 with nothing else to come in the East), what with Lincoln's championing of Grant when almost everybody else wanted to throw him overboard - it was curtains for the Republicans, and the war would've ended with the North withdrawing and the Confederacy as an established fact.

    So, Lee need not have utterly destroyed Grant's army. He just needed to defeat it badly and inflict massive losses and end the campaign. Once Grant was compelled to take his army, defeated ONCE AGAIN by a masterful battle of manuever by the genius of an outnumbered but brilliant Lee, back north of the river and out of Virginia, AGAIN...the war ends with a Confederate victory because the new administration would've been inaugurated in January, before the Federal armies could go into action again and redeem the disaster.

    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    but i do agree with you that the eastern battles by themselves did not mean much. however, in the course of the war, that was a good thing for the federals- grant in effect locked lee into place, allowing sherman to deliver the killing stroke by rampaging across the south.
    Correct: the decision wasn't reached in Virginia. It was in the WEST that the war went off the rails for the Confederacy.

    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    on another note,

    edward alexander porter, the very man who was in charge of the artillery prep for pickett's charge, said that he felt the most decisive day was one of the days in the Seven Days Battle. i think you referred to it earlier, regarding stonewall jackson being asleep. but had jackson pulled it off, it would have been a cannae for the confederates.

    and early 1862 was not half as favorable for the federals as 1864 was. no standing pool of reinforcements, and DC was not all that well fortified yet.
    I also believe that had Lee managed to destroy and not simply defeat and repel McClellan, it would've assured Confederate independence.

    I think Lee sensed it, too, and that one last disastrous battle was an attempt to make a big-dice-roll gamble to try to win the war in one big 'go', all at once, in one last day of desperate fighting. Lee knew the chances would get slimmer and slimmer with the passage of time, and he had to either win soon, or watch the possibilities get narrowed down to nothin' over the years.

    He'd been victorious is each of the previous week's battles, and it was against a thoroughly-beaten general with a retreating army that he was going into that last attack, so he might've thought that they were fragile enough to shatter with a good, hard shove to topple 'em over. But that's not what he gave them: it was a bunch of disjointed, uncoordinated assaults into the teeth of the Federal's greatest strength advantage: massed, heavy artillery against troops in open terrain.

    And I think the ONLY reason he tried it is because if it had by some miracle worked, the Confederacy would've won the war on the spot.
    Last edited by Bluesman; 20 Apr 07, at 13:23.

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    I tend to agree that it was the collapse of the western theatre that was ultimately decisive. Although the CSA suffered losses that they could not afford at Franklin, the Union was forced to withdraw at the end of the day. It was actually Nashville where Hood was ultimately and completely defeated, so I suppose that makes Nashville a worthy 'candidate'. However, I would say that Grant defeating Bragg at Chattanooga was really 'decisive' in terms of breaking the CSA position in the west. The outcome of that battle allowed the USA to advance on Atlanta. Hood's Franklin-Nashville campaign was a desparate attempt to 'force' the USA to pull back, by threatening their rear and supply lines. Basically, Hood had no realistic chance of defeating the USA in a head to head battle against their main forces, so he attempted this 'indirect' approach - which ultimately failed. So, IMHO, it was the outcome of Chattanooga which was 'decisive' in terms of putting the CSA in this desparate position in the first place.

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    Quote Originally Posted by deadkenny View Post
    I tend to agree that it was the collapse of the western theatre that was ultimately decisive. Although the CSA suffered losses that they could not afford at Franklin, the Union was forced to withdraw at the end of the day. It was actually Nashville where Hood was ultimately and completely defeated, so I suppose that makes Nashville a worthy 'candidate'. However, I would say that Grant defeating Bragg at Chattanooga was really 'decisive' in terms of breaking the CSA position in the west. The outcome of that battle allowed the USA to advance on Atlanta. Hood's Franklin-Nashville campaign was a desparate attempt to 'force' the USA to pull back, by threatening their rear and supply lines. Basically, Hood had no realistic chance of defeating the USA in a head to head battle against their main forces, so he attempted this 'indirect' approach - which ultimately failed. So, IMHO, it was the outcome of Chattanooga which was 'decisive' in terms of putting the CSA in this desparate position in the first place.
    Well, I followed all of that, but you got a couple of aspects wrong:

    1) the Federals weren't forced to withdraw from Franklin because Hood hurt 'em; he didn't. They 'withdrew' because that's what they were going to do ANYway. They were never going to make a stand there, but the fool Hood MADE 'em stand their ground, insisting on a completely unnecessary attack that didn't do anything but destroy his own army. The Federals had been marching away from him, but he 'caught' 'em, and BOY! was he ever sorry he did THAT. Nashville was merely the exclamation point on the sentence that was written at Franklin.

    2) And although everything that came before Franklin by definition led up to the events there, NONE of it was decisive, nor was Franklin inevitable due to the events that preceded it. Those battles and campaigns, important and necessary, did NOT see the end of meaningful Confederate resistance in the West; Franklin DID.

    So, I'm going with my original answer: 'FRANKLIN', because when you're asking about civil war battles that DECIDED things (as the original post did), then having an entire army wiped off your order of battle and leaving the entire theatre totally undefended is purty much the way that word is defined.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesman View Post
    ...So, I'm going with my original answer: 'FRANKLIN', because when you're asking about civil war battles that DECIDED things (as the original post did), then having an entire army wiped off your order of battle and leaving the entire theatre totally undefended is purty much the way that word is defined.
    Sure, you can 'go with' any answer you want. However, Hood's army wasn't 'wipe off the order of battle' at Franklin. After Franklin the army advanced and assaulted the Union position at Nashville. It was Nashville where Hood's army was effectively finished.

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    Quote Originally Posted by deadkenny View Post
    Sure, you can 'go with' any answer you want. However, Hood's army wasn't 'wipe off the order of battle' at Franklin. After Franklin the army advanced and assaulted the Union position at Nashville. It was Nashville where Hood's army was effectively finished.
    I'm not sure why I'm debating this with you, as you clearly don't know what you're talking about, but I'll take this opportunity to let others that may be reading this know that Hood did NOT assault the Federal positions, but was instead attacked and swept away himself.

    As I said in my earlier posts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluesman View Post
    I'm not sure why I'm debating this with you, as you clearly don't know what you're talking about, but I'll take this opportunity to let others that may be reading this know that Hood did NOT assault the Federal positions, but was instead attacked and swept away himself.

    As I said in my earlier posts.
    Well, you claim that Hood was destroyed at Franklin ('wiped off the order of battle' in your words). However, AFTER Franklin Hood ADVANCED to Nashville and detached Forrest to ATTACK Murfreesboro and took up positions outside of Nashville itself. Now, those actions may have been ill advised under the circumstances, but they were hardly the actions of an army that had been completely wiped out, 'leaving the entire theatre totally undefended' (again, your words). It was at Nashville that Hood's army was effectively 'wiped out', not Franklin. Franklin was simply an instance of Hood trying to 'catch' a portion of the Union forces and destroy them. Although he suffered heavy losses and the Union eventually 'escaped', it was not entirely a mistaken strategy as the Union position was 'vunerable', their immediate retreat route being retricted by a river at their back. The failure was in the execution. Clearly Hood failed in his objective at Franklin, and retrospectively his advance on Nashville and detachment of Forrest were serious mistakes. But the fact remains that Hood was not 'wiped out' at Franklin, so by your own logic it is Nashville that should be considered the 'decisive' battle. For my part I would rate Chattanooga as more 'decisive' than either, since it was that battle, and the aftermath, that left Hood in the desperate position he found himself in after Atlanta.
    Last edited by deadkenny; 21 Apr 07, at 16:53.

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    Okay, I get you now. BUT...

    Franklin DID decide events. Therefore, it was DECISIVE. Nashville, if you want to look at it that way, was merely a formality. Or, as I said,
    Nashville was merely the exclamation point on the sentence that was written at Franklin.
    (I really like the way that reads. )

    From the 'Battle of Franklin' wiki entry: 'The Army of Tennessee was all but destroyed at Franklin. Nevertheless, Hood immediately advanced against the entire Union Army of the Cumberland, firmly entrenched at Nashville with the Army of the Ohio, leading his battered forces to further, and final, disaster in the Battle of Nashville.'

    From the 'Battle of Nashville' wiki entry: 'Historian David Eicher remarked, "If Hood mortally wounded his army at Franklin, he would kill it two weeks later at Nashville."'

    Nothing more needed to be done to destroy Hood; it had already been accomplished. He just didn't know it because he was constantly stoned on laudanum. So, when I said Hood had been 'destroyed', obviously he was still in the field, BUT his army was incapable of anything except being defeated once and for all at the subsequent action; it was inevitable, and therefore, the decision had been reached PRIOR to that final battle. That is the definition of 'decisive'; the matter was decided at Franklin, NOT Nashville.

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